Second-Order Change, Why Reform is a Misnomer for the Real Common Core

This is the definition of Second-Order Change used at a January 2012 presentation by Peter Senge and the Waters Foundation to the Nevada Department of Education. Second-order change:

“is doing something significantly or fundamentally different from what we have done before. The process is irreversible: once you begin, it is impossible to return to the way you were doing things before.”

Irreversible Change. That sure does remind me of a 2000 book by Vicki Phillips and Michael Barber that was the bible of the UNESCO ed vision all over the world in the last attempt at radical ed “reform” in the US.   Fusion: How to Unleash Irreversible Change-Lessons for the Future of System-Wide School Reform would be a worrisome title if its authors were influential people. Let’s see. Barber was Tony Blair’s Ed Advisor when he was UK Prime Minister, then on to McKinsey where he pushed ed reform globally by telling governments what the world’s “Top” Systems were changing. Now the Pearson Conglomerate’s Chief Education Advisor as of May 2011. Don’t worry. It’s not like Pearson is involved with the curriculum or assessments coming to a classroom and school near you. And not just in the US.

I will let you search out Vicki Phillips’ busy history as an Education Change Agent before she got to her current position at the Gates Foundation which is funding so much of the Common Core curriculum in preparation for those singular Learning Progressions that are mostly missing from the PR campaigns. And that funded what will become formative assessments in the classroom. What makes me feel even more reassured that Common Core is not in fact a noble effort to make content comparable state to state is knowing the main business actors in the global 21st Century Skills push, ATC21S, thank Vicki Phillips by name for her help. Doesn’t it make you feel like we lost an invite to some spectacular parties in scenic global locations pursuing how to use education to profitably remake the world around the meme of Sustainability while the ignorant masses don’t even know what changed, when, or why?

Since we are paying attention, let’s get back to where the influential Professor Senge said was the vision for 21st Century Learning. And if your instinct is to say “I don’t live in Nevada,” remember that the regional ed lab in Aurora, Colorado pushed Second-Order Change as part of its 2007 vision for School Improvement in the recreated OBE template we have already talked about . And Nevada administrators have now moved on to places like Charlotte-Meck to spread this systems vision and 2nd Order Change. And districts like Winston-Salem, NC; Portland, Oregon; Tahoma, Wash; and Carlisle are all mentioned in Senge’s Systems Thinking work as being part of his coalition of implementers.

“An Exploration-Vision of 21st Century Learning-Systems Citizenship Made Real Through Innovation, Systems Thinking & Education for Sustainability” does not sound like something I will be pledging allegiance to via a national flag. I suppose that’s what all the references to a new way of thinking and high leverage mental models for students are all about. It is portable and travels unseen and perhaps undetected within each student influencing behavior and guiding perceptions of daily experiences. It seems quite intrusive and rather psychologically precarious to me but then I am not an MIT Lecturer. I am sure their computer models are much more revealing about real kids in real classrooms across America getting ready for a real future as an independent adult.

Oh, not to be independent? Not a future based on the past? That may explain the disconnect. Let’s take a look at what Peter’s colleague, Otto Scharmer, has written about this Systems Thinking vision for the future. When Peter mentions Blind Spots or Social Evolution as he speaks, that is where we need to look for the definitions that will impact the school vision or the state or district implementation. And if any of you are breathing a sigh of relief that your teachers and administrators are doing Daggett Model Schools Training or Spence Rogers PEAK training instead, William Spady himself saw his OBE work in the 80s as comparable to what Senge was doing at the time. Except Spady was annoyed because Senge was paid so much more and Spady thought he gave a better speech. Lots of well-paid egos have been cashing in for a long time on using education to create a different kind of future and changing the students mental mindset.

Let’s look further for more insights. And take a deep breath and put down your beverage. You might create a sticky keyboard otherwise. First, as I have said repeatedly, this is about creating a new post-capitalism, non-fossil fuel based economy. Even the Scandinavian social welfare state is not sufficient. Systems thinking is literally about reimagining a future with little connection to the past. A future where emotions are the paramount drivers in people and anything that fosters abstract thinking, like phonetic reading, sequential math or sciences, and actual factual knowledge, are rejected because they stand in the way of action thinking (Scharmer calls it analysis paralysis).

The mental models of students have to be changed, Senge and Scharmer maintain, to save Mother Earth and to transform the “relationship between business, government and civil society from manipulation and confrontation to dialogue and co-creation.” In case the extent of the US and global social transformation being sought is not yet clear, this systems thinking initiative involved so closely with Common Core is intended “to facilitate profound innovation at the scale of the whole ecosystem.” Boy, that does sound like the Belmont  Challenge and the Future Earth Alliance again. And to think Scharmer was explaining that Blind Spot at a 2010 Economic Forum in China.

Th Blind Spot is the hidden source of human behaviors. What OBE advocates always refer to as values, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings and target expressly through SEL. Systems Thinkers get to the same point of trying to dictate human responses and behaviors but their theory and rhetoric are slightly different. Both will have most of us with invisible mental serfs collars guiding our “free” choices.  Systems thinkers are concerned that “most people relate to the future by reflecting on the trends of the past.” Systems thinkers reject the past as inapt.

“They see the emerging future as an advent, a coming-into-being of something profoundly new. To connect with such a field of emerging future opportunity we have to open up, let go of the past, and tune in to what we feel is a field of future possibility, something that might be possible, something we could bring into reality, a future that would be very different from the past. . . I call this deeper learning from the emerging future presencing. . . Presencing means to sense an emerging future possibility and then to act from that state of awareness in the now.”

To get to a Presencing state requires a rejection of individualistic thinking that the systems thinkers call the egosystem and an embrace of the collective. “Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will” is the motto. This systems theory that is to be the basis for children’s classroom experiences under Common Core, not just some Fortune 500 execs on a pastoral retreat, is based on the “assumption” that each human being and each human community is not one but two:

“one is the current self, the person who exists as the result of a past journey; the other is the Self, the self that we could become as the result of our future journey. Presencing is the process of the (current) self and the (emerging) Self listening to each other.”

Not in the school classroom. If the so-called Blind Spot is an aspiration for US educators pushing Systems Thinking, then nothing in the US is sacrosanct anymore. There is effectively no impediment to tyrannical intrusions and the US Constitution is just a historical document, not a living source of protection against statist predations.

And these predations are expensive to boot. Our money. Our debt.

Distributive Justice is Not Enough We Must Break the Illusion of the Unitary Self

If you plan to use education in the US to “break the illusion of a stable and unitary self,” you will get my attention once it comes on my radar screen. We have already talked about the dominance of Communitarian principles in Common Core’s implementation through the actual definition of Career Ready and what is required for a Positive School Climate. I have mentioned repeatedly that the primary designers of Common Core have said social and emotional learning are the primary goals, not content knowledge.

Content is merely a tool for the students to visualize and emotionalize real world problems. To pretend that everything is fixable with discussion, enough tax money, and central planning. And maybe a new set of values too. Something the typical student and maybe adults who have spent their lives on the public payroll might actually believe. But what does this type of curriculum look like in practice?

I have said before that “Learning” is now defined as changing individual values or beliefs or feelings or especially behaviors. Learning is no longer about factual knowledge. This is true all over the world to varying degrees. We have a great deal of cooperating going on among teachers from various countries copying each others’ ideas for this new type of Learning. Supposedly more suitable for the Information Age and the hoped for New Caring Economy based on Sustainability in the 21st Century. Recently, the teachers have been linking to the ideas of an Australian blogger and teacher. Her suggestions include molding the curriculum around “What do you think is unfair?” and “What would you do to change the world?”

Now obviously a student with little knowledge of facts will feel her way to her answer. That’s considered to be deep, reflective thinking. Even better if the student writes her “thoughts” down. I use the scare quotes deliberately because unsupported, emotional beliefs are not what most of us consider to be “thinking.” Especially the kind of thinking we want schools or colleges to be cultivating. Indeed mandating. In case you wonder what the teacher’s motivations are she tells us: “Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act.” Her bolding to make sure readers got the point. Encouraging students to change the world.

The unfairness curriculum is supposed to draw the class closer together:

“as we reveal what bothers us and find commonalities. We make connections between the different injustices and relate them to our own experiences. We shift back and forth between personal and global perspectives. We discuss how global issues might affect us personally and how personal issues might be relevant in broader contexts.”

And a student with this type of Relevant, Authentic, Engaging Curriculum would be an absolute sitting duck for all these schemes to use education to change the filtering mindset. To gain A New, non-Axemaker Mind. To prime the students for a different social, political, and economic system than what created the West’s prosperity. We could honestly call this curriculum educating for Utopia and have no chance any teacher or student would be likely to grasp that Utopia means Nowhere for a reason.

Back to our quote from the title, this week I read about a Building One America conference held in July 2011 at the White House. It was supposedly about the Regional Equity Movement in the US. That really caught my eye as my reaction to every regional conference I have ever attended has been to wonder why no one else attending seems to appreciate they are describing a centrally planned economy with its terrible track records. is a post I wrote to describe what I heard and what it actually means if carried through. As you can imagine with my work on the Belmont Challenge and the Future Earth Alliance at the international level, the Building One America conference sounded like an awfully useful political vehicle for transformative change. Worth looking into in light of what we already know.

One of the listed speakers complete with powerpoint was an Ohio State professor, john a. powell (his preference is all lower case). He wants future students and citizens:

“animated not simply by visions of distributive equality, nor even equality of opportunity, but more fundamentally, by a transformed view of the self, of relationships, and of the world.”

powell’s new vision of self is about “interconnection, of interbeing.” He wants to build this new definition of self and “awareness into our institutions and processes.” That would certainly explain all this Communitarian emphasis we have been seeing and the rejection of individual thinking we described in this post

Just to update that adoption of socio-cultural theory as the new basis for American education practices, the US Partnership for 21st Century Learning this week explicitly endorsed that Education for Life and Work report as providing the foundation for a new view of learning. I’ll say. I don’t think they were expecting anyone to go past the news release or Executive Summary.

Back to powell, this is the definition of freedom that permeates his work and the Regional Equity Movement. And it sounds just like that Bronfenbrenner Ecological Systems learning theory we also discussed that is the specious basis for bad education practices all over the world now. Now isn’t this a definition of freedom that is the antithesis of the concept of the individual in the West and the type of freedom the US Constitution was created to preserve? Quoting cultural historian Jeremy Rifkin by name, powell says:

“Freedom is found not in autonomy but in embeddedness. To be free is to have access to many independent relationships. . . It is inclusivity that brings security–belonging, not belongings.”

Well, I suppose, it is good not to emphasize belongings in a social justice movement seeking to obtain racial equity, class equity (I guess they mean no classes a la that Line of Plenty for All), and spacial equity (they seem to want us all crowding back into urban areas and walking or taking transit). That is supposed to foster economic development for all. Not likely.

But breaking the illusion of the solitary self requires “new approaches to learning” and students and citizens “open to reexamining social and economic assumptions” writes a different Regional Equity architect, Paloma Pavel. You can see how not knowing much history would make that reexamination easier to push. Even if the actual consequences remain catastrophic. Who will know until the catastrophe occurs once education becomes about “the need for internal transformation within the consciousness of each individual?”

Stanley Kurtz in his new book, Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities says that Building One America is to be a primary goal of an Obama Second Term. He thinks the American people have a right to know what that would entail. Last week I tracked down the education vision of the Regional Equity Movement. It sure does fit with what we already know about what Common Core actually looks like as well as the Belmont Challenge aspirations.

So maybe we need to decide whether the individual actually is an antiquated idea we want educators trying to eliminate. In malleable, captive minds. Using psychological practices.

Just thought I’d ask.

Does Purple America Come with a Toy Dinosaur or is it Just More SEL?

For those of you still upset by the June 11 post , today will be more of the same except this time it is backed up by the NEA. The National Education Association is a hugely influential US lobby and teachers association and financial contributor to elections at all levels. It is sort of a superunion since it does more than represent teachers.  But that’s where its dollars and tremendous reach into every school district and electoral nook and cranny in the US come from.

So NEA’s decision to create a values character education curriculum to enhance student social and emotional learning is no minor, likely to stay on the shelves, no one will pay them for it, curriculum. They have the clout and it is coming. The related names are all trademarked. The fee schedule for workshop training has been printed. The sadly likely-to- be-effective strategy of using students as recruiters and trainers of still more students is already named and laid out. Who could resist the opportunity for STARS–Students Training And Reaching Students? For students willing to take their involvement with Project Love to the next level after attending the Power of Kindness Workshop. Each STAR will be helpfully trained by NEA reps to:

“lead small group discussions for middle and high school students at Project Love Workshops

Use active listening skills, learn how to encourage discussion, how to handle differences of opinion and know when to get help

Serve as role models of kindness, caring and respect whereever they go

Become the ‘change agents’ for their schools and lead their peers in a positive direction.”

Well I suppose that might be OK if we were just talking about troubled schools or schools where students are struggling to have any positive role models or healthy personal visions in their lives. Alas, that is clearly not what the NEA has in mind as the market for Purple America. Are you as parents or taxpayers likely to know this is occurring in your local schools? No. As you are probably beginning to appreciate by now the banner of Common Core is being used to smuggle in a lot of dramatic changes that are the opposite of national criteria for content to be learned. In that soon to be antique notion of learning as actually knowing anything in your own mind. No Purple America is designed to be an integrated curriculum that can be embedded in any subject area for some good old fashioned authentic learning. It’s designed to get the whole school passionate about civic involvement. Much more exciting than studying the history of the country you want to try to change.

Now Purple America says it is not a political organization. It believes that we need to Re-Imagine America (that’s a registered trademark too) that is fully committed to its values. These values it says are not red or blue. The values Purple America wants to push are Equality, Faith, Family, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-Expression, Doing the Right Thing, Community, Giving Back, the Good Life, Opportunity and Success. Again not to worry I know the NEA reps will have the exact same definitions of each of those terms as what you would have explained to your child. I know there’s no need to point out that those may be nice qualities to discuss in an informal setting. But mandating it in the classroom and then keeping track of Which student believes What, and where they are on the continuum of accepting Officially Desired Views, is deeply violating.

And if it seems I am just being paranoid, yesterday the Common Core Career Ready Practices were released. They insist that each career-ready student must “understand the obligations and responsibilities of being a member of a community.” That’s certainly consistent with always reminding people that they are not an individual entitled to liberty and privacy and autonomy. The long sought goal of telling people they only really become a person in their relations to others. That they are nothing in their own right is a pretty lousy thing to convince American students of. The person-in-community concept is not the individual Western culture or the free markets that brought so much economic prosperity developed around.

Likewise those same career ready students are now defined as people who “apply insights into human behavior to change others actions, attitudes and/or beliefs.” Now where on earth would students get the training for such manipulation of others?  Why I have an idea. It’s not intrusive training. Purple America just desires:

“Our mission is to help you connect with your personal values system and the values that unite us as Americans. We seek to inspire civil conversation about what is important to America, so together, we can imagine a future for our nation that represents our American values.”

Sounds transformational. As if societies are created in the first place and can simply be redesigned with sufficient political will and collective imagination. New readers may want to revisit this post to appreciate this is not a new goal for education. I mean it would be so much trouble to rewrite the US Constitution. Let’s just use education to change what a majority of the future voters will believe it means. How much easier is that? Stealthier too.

I don’t think it is coincidental at all that I found Herman E Daly’s controversial book for the common good: redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future on the list of resources to be used on the School Climate Center’s website. The comment above about abandoning the concept of the individual and replacing it with person-in-community came from the introduction of that book. Sounds much like UNESCO’s vision of solidarity as well.

We have talked before how the bullying emphasis and School Climate brings in PBIS for all and the social and emotional emphasis in the classroom. Project Love and Purple America proudly proclaim their intentions to train for “values-in-action.” I have many new readers from many parts of the US and the world. That’s why I went back and gave links to especially important previous foundational posts.

Is there anybody still reading who can avoid appreciating now that this is education as a social, political, and economic weapon? That what’s to be transformed is the US and the West away from the traditions and practices and knowledge that brought unprecedented prosperity? There’s a lot at stake in the education masquerade. But we’re up for the challenge, aren’t we? I bet we know our history better too.